The book flap:


Charles Darwin arrived at the Galapagos Islands some three centuries after their discovery. Thousands of seafarers had been there before him, but in these islands Darwin found something more enduring than fresh water and tortoise meat. He found nourishment for an idea—an idea so powerful that its implications revised the place of humans in the universe and enriched every facet of science. Darwin tested and refined his idea for decades before he was persuaded to go public in 1859 by publishing The Origin of Species.

Today this remote archipelago is the destination of vast numbers of visitors who hope to see what Darwin saw and to experience the aura of this extraordinary place. The Galapagos ecosystem, a tapestry of living things, is probably the best preserved of any in the world. Like all ecosystems it is made of many components that are interwoven and interdependent; Darwin’s idea explains how such tapestries are organized as well as how they are created.

Now, in spectacular pictures and insightful prose, The Galápagos: Exploring Darwin’s Tapestry opens the Galápagos experience to general readers. With an extensive background in ornithology and evolutionary ecology, a lifetime of experience as naturalist and photographer, and a deep respect for his subjects, John Hess has produced a celebration of these “Enchanted Islands”.

Beginning with the islands’ origins and the complex of physical forces that make the Galapagos so remarkable, Hess turns his attention to the most prominent habitats on the islands and to the plants and animals encountered in them.  He then focuses on the animals most encountered by visitors, animals that Hess presents as Galapagos Royalty: the flightless cormorant, the marine iguana, the Galápagos tortoise, and others. A photo essay for each of these species provides the reader with an intimate look at their physical and behavioral adaptations, and the accompanying text offers insight into their lives, showing that each of them is a unique and priceless evolutionary achievement. 

The photographs are amazingly intimate, offering close-up views that bring readers into virtual contact with the animals, illustrating their behavior and apparent quirks. An albatross that takes its egg for a stroll, a seabird that can’t swim or land in the water, and a gull that has learned to fish for squid in the dark.

For Hess, the Galápagos is more than a tourist attraction, more than a shrine to science—it is a place of breathless awe. His book invites readers to share his affection for them and his understanding of what makes this place work, or perhaps to enlarge on their own experiences, and share his appreciation of the exquisite beauty of Darwin’s tapestry. 


E.O Wilson, author of Consilience, On Human Nature and many more.

“This is a beautifully illustrated and informative introduction to the life of Galápagos.  It’s just the book to get the overall picture, and to use as a guide if the reader is fortunate enough to visit this amazing archipelago.”

Jeffrey P. Bonner, President of the Saint Louis Zoo and author of Sailing with Noah: Stories from the world of Zoos

“I’m often asked by people who are traveling to the Galápagos Islands what book they should read before going.  I finally have a good answer.  John Hess’s book is not just beautifully written.  It features spectacular photography—informed by the trained eye of a superb evolutionary biologist—and these images bring the magical plants and animals of the unique archipelago to life”

John R. Faaborg, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, and author of Ornithology: an Ecological Approach.

“I found the book to be a delight to read, as it brought back so many memories of a place where I worked hard and long, but haven’t visited in over a decade.  This book will serve to stimulate folks to visit those islands and remind them of what a special visit they had.  It was fun to read and the pictures are spectacular.”

Daniel Quinn, Author of Ishmael

“In this wondrous volume Hess, Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of Central Missouri, vastly expanded and enriched my understanding of ecosystems and of the subtle ways in which they shape the creatures that inhabit them. In lay-reader-friendly text and more than 150 stunning color photographs we are given intimate glances into the behavior and quirks of dozens of species, some all but unimaginable. A treasury of enlightenment and a treasure of a book.

Hess & friends– a fantasy that imagines a relationship with some of the Galápagean natives.  A Blue-footed Booby examines either the book or my finger, a Red-footed Booby, always demure and seemingly shy, watches from the sidelines, the Galapagos Sea Lion pup is just in the road and not likely to move, and the Waved Albatross, the quintessential navigator, oddly enough, seems lost.